Wednesday, January 28, 2015

New Climate Change Projections

The Government must stop undermining the Renewable Energy Target and return to the bipartisanship we had before the election about this. We need to move completely to renewable energy by 2060 – over the next forty-five years. We should cut our emissions by 20% by 2020, and another 20% each decade after that.
And if we don’t do that, and take advantage of the international leadership being shown by the US, China and others, who are getting ahead of us on climate change action, then the latest projections from the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology re-inforce the science that southern Australia will cop it and cop it through year in year out droughts and bushfires.

Friday, January 23, 2015

David Hicks Terrorism Conviction

I am very pleased to see reports this morning that the United States government has admitted that David Hicks conviction in 2007 for providing material support for terrorism is invalid.

When I was Shadow Attorney-General in 2006 I campaigned for David Hicks to be given a fair trial. He was never given a fair trial. What happened was that David Hicks pleaded guilty to an offence which didn't exist when he was arrested, in exchange for being released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to Australia.

I have always believed that David Hicks guilty plea did not make him a guilty man. He had been detained in Guantanamo Bay in solitary confinement for five and a half years with no recourse to a fair trial. I believe many people placed in such a situation would have acted similarly.

I therefore welcome these developments. I regret that the Australian Government, and particularly the Foreign Minister of the time Alexander Downer, did so little for so long to try to get David Hicks a fair trial. Like that Government's meek compliance with the US Government's disastrous decision to invade Iraq, the consequences of which we are still living with today, it was weak and unworthy – more lapdog than national government.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

Today yet again we mourn a cowardly and violent attack by Islamist fundamentalist extremists – this time on the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

This is, as is widely understood, an attack not only on real flesh and blood people, but an attack on real values, of freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of religious expression and worship is very important, but everyone needs to understand and accept its limits. Someone’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of action stops at the point of their neighbour’s nose – you cannot interfere with, or impose your views on, or violently seek to silence, others.
There can be no place for religious intolerance or religious fanaticism. I salute the day in day out courage of the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, a bravery which stands in stark contrast to the cowardly resort to weapons and hiding behind masks which characterised their attackers.

Local Workers Sold Out

A new temporary entry visa for skilled migrants, without any of the safeguards of labour market testing and English language requirements, would be a betrayal of Australian workers.

Unemployment has risen to 6.3 per cent. Over 775,000 Australians are out of work. The total number of hours worked in Australia in November actually fell by 0.3 per cent. Youth unemployment is at a 15 year high of 13.8%. In the northwest of Melbourne it is 17.2%, up from 13.1% in 2013.

The Liberal Government would be much more helpful if it cut back our migrant worker programs that are placing unfair competition on local young people, and invested instead in our skills and education sectors. The billions of dollars in cuts by the Liberal Federal and State Governments to our skills, training, TAFE, higher education, secondary and primary education sectors hampers job opportunities for young people. Making young people ineligible for the Newstart Allowance is punitive and will do nothing to tackle the real reasons behind rising unemployment.

Despite the rhetoric that high skilled migration is needed for the mining and agriculture sectors, the reality is a high proportion of migrant workers come to Victoria. The Skilled Migration Program grew from 125,755 places on 2011-12 to 128,973 in 2012-13. In 1995-96 the Skilled Migration Program was just 24,100. The Occupations with the highest number of primary visa grants were professionals (4,656 or 51.1%) and technicians and trade workers (2,416 or 26.5%) in the 457 Visa Class.

As Skilled Migration researcher Bob Birrell has said:

“There are already significant problems with graduate employment in professions such as dentistry, computer science, medicine and engineering.

Liberalisation such that being mooted is going to crash head-on with that situation.”
The Liberal Government should be focusing on how to maximise employment opportunities for our own university graduates and apprentices, and strengthening requirements for employers to advertise jobs locally before recruiting ­workers from overseas, not making it easier for companies to bypass Australian workers.

Arms Trade Treaty Just a First Step

It is an important first step that a Global Arms Trade Treaty is now in force. It is a tribute to the foresight of men like the Dalai Lama and Hose Ramos Horta, and Australia can be proud of the role it has played at each step along the way, playing a leading role in getting the United Nations and the nations of the world to focus on this issue.

As the first international, legally binding agreement establishing common standards for the transfer of conventional arms, the Treaty provides a basis to curb the damaging illicit arms trade. Article Six of the Treaty sets out circumstances where the export of arms is banned, including where the UN Security Council has put in place an arms embargo and where arms would be used in the commission of genocide or crimes against humanity. Article Seven requires arms exporting countries to conduct an assessment, before they export arms, as to whether the arms would contribute to or undermine peace and security, could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international law, or acts constituting terrorism or organised crime, or could be used to commit or facilitate acts of violence against women and children.

The Treaty is far from comprehensive or perfect. It lacks enforcement mechanisms. It leaves some definitions to the nation states themselves, which is likely to prove problematic in countries like the United States of America, where gun culture is rife and the Congress is timid about controlling firearms. Grenades are not covered. Non-monetary transfers of arms may fall outside the scope of the Treaty. It will be need to be tightened up when it is reviewed in a year's time.

But there is no doubt about the importance of this work. Studies suggest that for many developing or fragile states, a combination of weak domestic regulation of authorised firearms possession with theft, loss or corrupt sale from official holdings is a bigger problem than illicit trafficking across borders.
In 2009 the Costa Rica President Oscar Arias, introducing the Treaty at the United Nations, said “it is up to us to ensure that in twenty years we do not awaken to the same terrors we suffer today... The leaders of humanity have the responsibility to put principles before profits, and enable the promise of a future in which, finally, we can sleep peacefully".

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Saving the Amazon Rainforest

At a time when most news from the environment front is discouraging, I was pleased to read during the Christmas New Year break a report in The Solutions Journal by Doug Boucher titled How Brazil Has Dramatically Reduced Tropical Deforestation.

The report details how Brazil has cut deforestation in the Amazon by 70 percent, compared to the average level in 1996-2005, making zero deforestation by 2020, or even sooner, achievable.

While the Brazilian Government deserves great credit for taking legislative action such as setting up protected areas and increasing the enforcement of environmental laws, the report clearly sets out the key roles played by both non-government bodies, and also by the Norwegian Government.

For example in 2006 Greenpeace released a report called Eating Up The Amazon, which linked the soybean industry to deforestation and water pollution, focusing on two multinational companies, the grain trader Cargill and the fast food chain Mc Donald's. This led to the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries and the National Association of Cereal Exporters announcing that their members would not buy any soybeans produced on Amazon farmland deforested after June 2006.

This soy moratorium was followed in 2009 by a beef moratorium, again in the light of hard hitting reports, by Greenpeace and local civil society groups. Slaughterhouses have signed agreements under which ranchers are required to provide the GPS co-ordinates of their property boundaries to the slaughterhouses in order to sell their beef to them. This made it possible to use remote sensing data to detect deforestation and trace it.

Norway also deserves a bouquet. They promised up to $1 billion for Brazil's Amazon Fund, on a strictly pay for performance basis – money flowed only as the goal of reducing deforestation was met. To date over $670 million has been paid under this agreement.
It is noteworthy that this is a non-market, non-offset program. Norway does not get the right to emit a single ton more of carbon dioxide in exchange for this funding. It is also noteworthy that the Norwegian contribution to REDD efforts worldwide ($2.5 billion over five years) amounted to $100 annually for each of its citizens, which compared pretty favourably with the US contribution of $1 annually for each if its citizens.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Older Australians Are Not Leaners

I agree with the sentiment of Kaye Fallick in her Age article on Monday Busting myths about the baby boomer burdens. Far from being a burden, they make an undervalued contribution to our society worth billions each year according to Dr Kathleen Brasher from the Council on the Ageing Victoria, a value added amount that GDP overlooks.

In bringing down his now infamous 2014 Budget, Treasurer Hockey emphasised the age of leaners had to end, and then went about outlining an ideological assault on welfare recipients, which included Aged Pensioners, by proposing an increase in the pension eligibility age to 70 and a re-indexation of the age pension.

An ageing population is a sign of success, both individually and collectively. Those societies which are the oldest are also the richest, healthiest and have the greatest life expectancy.

Worrying about getting older devalues older people and the significant contributions older people make to our society. Research constantly shows that older people make a great contribution to our society, providing child care and acting as mentors and role models. A significant increase in women’s participation in the workforce in the past few decades has been facilitated by having grandparents to look after children. Older people have also been found to make more financial contributions to their children and grandchildren than the other way around. Far from being leaners they are in fact lifters. Many age pensioners take on part time and occasional work and should be encouraged and rewarded for these valuable contributions to our community.

The whole ageing workforce scare is based around the idea that the ageing of the workforce will lead to labour shortages. As Dr Katherine Betts, from the Swinburne University of Technology, points out in the article, fears that a reduction in the proportion of tax-paying workers will support a growing proportion of age pensioners are unfounded: “even with no further growth in labour force participation rates, the dependency ratio is expected to decline from a current 53.6 per cent to about 44-46 per cent by 2061….Moreover, the health and cognitive abilities of older people are better today than they were among older people in the past."

The May Budget was seriously flawed in not acknowledging the inputs of senior Australians. The Treasurer would be better placed if he were to recognise older Australians’ contribution to the economy in the form of unpaid work, volunteering, child-minding and intergenerational transfers of wealth.

Inner Melbourne Liquor Licence Freeze

What a silly report in the Saturday Age of January 3, and self-interested nonsense from the Restaurant and Catering Industry Association, about the impact of the freeze on new liquor licences in inner Melbourne over the past few years.

The first problem was that the while the headline screamed "Licence freeze fails to dent crime" the report itself made no reference to crime rates at all! The second problem was that while the report referred to a jump in ambulance call outs, it assumed that the only factor influencing ambulance call out rates was liquor licences. This was a logical fallacy that a Year 10 student would readily identify.

The fallacy was brought home in a big way just two days later, when this morning's Age reported that demand for illegal narcotics such as ice is growing at breakneck speed. This time the facts were very much in evidence – use and possession offences for all drugs have skyrocketed by 68 per cent in the last five years. The highest rate of offences by a mile is in Melbourne City, the 3000 postcode, which in 2013/14 had 898 drug use and possession offences and 288 drug production offences.

Given such an increase it is entirely foreseeable that the rate of ambulance call outs in inner Melbourne would have risen. We can only guess at what the rate would have been if successive State Governments hadn't restricted the issuing of new liquor licences and the amount of alcohol being served after 1 am.
No doubt we need to do more to tackle the ice epidemic. But allowing more liquor to be served in the early hours of the morning will not make Melbourne a safer or better place to live in – quite the opposite.